Perceptions of size vary widely.
Is the distance from London to Edinburgh, a voyage of a mere 7 hours by car, far? Others might put London to Manchester as being too far to comfortably drive, and use it as a rule of thumb. Indeed, in the tiny island of Cyprus, there are residents who haven’t visited the town of Paphos for many years, as the distance – a drive of one hour and forty minutes – seems inordinately large to them.
A family from the Netherlands can comfortably drive down to the south of France. One can punctuate their journey to Montpellier, by finding the first signs for Barcelona just before reaching Toulouse. And France is considered a large country, while the Netherlands is considered an average-sized one. Things are different outside our borders though.
Intra-European estimates of what is a large country and what isn’t, and what is a long distance and what isn’t, vary somewhat. However, there are general misconceptions that people tend to hold. We tend not to realise exactly how small Europe is.
To act as a handy resource and a guide, you can find the land areas of European states in the close of the second decade of the 21st century here:
Sizes in thousand square kilometres eg Norway 385,000 km2
The large (for Europe)
- France– 643*; slightly smaller than the US state of Texas
- Ukraine – 603
- Spain – 505
- Sweden– 449; slightly larger than Morocco
- Norway – 385
- Germany– 357; to three significant figures, the same size as the sixth largest state of Brazil, Mato Grosso do Sul
- Finland – 338
- Poland – 312
- Italy – 301
- Great Britain – 266*; about one tenth the size of Kazakhstan
- Romania – 238
- Belarus – 207
- Greece – 131
- Bulgaria – 111
- Iceland – 103; about the size of the US state of Virginia
- Hungary – 93
- Portugal – 91.5
- Austria – 84
- Czechia – 79; one tenth the size of the Australian state New South Wales
- Serbia – 77
- Ireland – 70
- Lithuania – 65
- Latvia – 65
- Croatia – 57
- Bosnia and Herzegovina – 51; about the size of the Indian state of Punjab
- Slovakia – 49
- Estonia – 45
- Denmark – 45
- Switzerland – 41
- Netherlands – 41
- Moldova – 34
- Belgium – 31
- Albania – 29
- Northern Macedonia? – 26
- Slovenia – 20; equivalent size to the smallest of Brazil’s 26 states, Sergipe
- Montenegro – 14
- Kosovo – 11
- Cyprus – 9
- Luxembourg – 2.5; one thousandth the size of Argentina
- Andorra – 0.47
- Malta – 0.32
- Lichtenstein – 0.16
- San Marino – 0.061
- Monaco – 0.002
- Vatican City – 0.00044; similar size to a rounding error
Countries in italics not yet part of the European Union/no longer part of the European Union.
*France includes its overseas départements. Great Britain includes its many British Overseas Territories.
Remember that even if some countries’ land area seems large in the European context, globally almost all European countries are tiny.
However, land area doesn’t tell the whole story. It can be desert or swampland, it can be farmland or pastureland, verdant coast or rugged mountain. Farmland and pastureland do tend to be important, as they produce what we ultimately eat. However, we can’t compare with places outside Europe necessarily.
To take an extreme case, Saudi Arabia may be seven times the size of Italy, but a large part of it is desert. To invert this though, a large part of it may be desert, but what treasures does the Saudi Arabian desert contain!
Taken alone, land area is not very useful. Combined with more information, we can learn more. It’s linked to food production, population density (which ultimately affects a lot of things) and natural resources. Consider it a snapshot. It demonstrates the possibilities and sets out limits.
Photo credit: Nicolas Mavreas